Military commanders on both sides of the Atlantic are privately expressing
deep unease about American plans to invade Iraq, believing they are ill thought
out with the strategy to achieve the ultimate objective - toppling Saddam Hussein
- far from clear.
It will be a "gargantuan task" which could spark off a conflagration across
the Middle East, a European military official warned yesterday.
A senior British military source said it was clear there was a "desire of the
US government [to attack Iraq] on their own if necessary". He added: "We
are scratching our heads to see what could make strategic sense."
US contingency plans include: heavy air strikes combined with a relatively
small invasion force of 5,000 troops; a force of some 50,000 troops which could
be deployed quickly deep inside Iraq; and a massive ground force of 250,000 US
troops supported by 25,000 British soldiers.
All the options are described by a British military source as "high risk".
British military planners - under Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the chief of the
defense staff known for his cautious approach and retiring next spring - are reluctantly
drawing up their own contingency plans in the event of an expected request from
Washington for support.
Some British military sources suggest the US plans, leaked by the Pentagon,
are merely psychological warfare on Washington's part. Their preferred option
is to continue the existing policy of containment combined with attempts to destabilize
In pursuit of the "containment" option, American bombers, supported by RAF
aircraft, on Sunday attacked a communications site in southern Iraq, the US central
command revealed yesterday. It was the sixth such strike this month in response
to what the US said were hostile actions by Iraq.
Growing concern among senior members of the armed forces about the wisdom of
invading Iraq was echoed yesterday by General Sir Michael Rose, a former head
of the SAS and of UN forces in Bosnia.
In an article in London's Evening Standard under the heading: "The madness
of going to war with Iraq", he said: "There are huge political and military risks
associated with launching large scale ground forces into Iraq."
A former chief of defense staff, Field Marshal Lord Bramall, warned in a letter
to the Times that an invasion of Iraq would pour "petrol rather than water" on
the flames and provide al-Qaida with more recruits. He quoted a predecessor who
said during the 1956 Suez crisis: "Of course we can get to Cairo but what I want
to know is what the bloody hell do we do when we get there?"
Retired top military personnel frequently express the opinions of serving senior
officers. These misgivings about an Iraqi military adventure echo apprehension
among senior uniformed officers on the other side of the Atlantic, clear splits
have emerged between America's professional soldiers and the gung ho civilian
leaders in the White House and the Pentagon.
In briefings calculated to query the administration's persistent saber rattling
towards Iraq, unnamed officers told the Washington Post that the policy of containment
was working well and that the alternative, a military assault, was too riddled
with risk to be worth pursuing. The officers even questioned the motivation behind
the Bush administration's preoccupation with ousting Saddam as part of a wider
"war on terror". One general described as being "involved in the Afghanistan war"
suggested it could be a matter of settling scores for the Bush family, after an
alleged Iraqi plot to assassinate the president's father during a 1993 visit to
Kuwait. "I'm not aware of any linkage to al-Qaida or terrorism," the general said,
"so I have to wonder if this has something to do with his father being targeted
But another uniformed officer at the Pentagon played down the importance of
the dissenting voices. "Has there ever been a single military operation where
you haven't had some voices wondering whether it's a good idea? Probably not,"
the officer told the Guardian.
Michael O'Hanlon, a strategic analyst at the Brookings Institution think tank
in Washington also argued that the reports of uniform-civilian splits had been
exaggerated. "If there are more than one or two on the joint chiefs of staff who
are against it, I'd be surprised," he said. "The thrust is how you do it and when
you do it. They're not questioning the president's decision on whether to do it."
But he said senior officers were also concerned about "the casual march to
war" being pursued by hawks in the administration, who portrayed the operation
as relatively risk-free.
Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an advocate of an assault on Iraq, rejected
the anxiety voiced as irrelevant. The decision to take on Saddam, he said, was
"a political judgment that these guys aren't competent to make".
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2002